January 18, 2017
The Ted Berry Company name carries the weight and reputation of a founder whose presence remains an intricately woven part of the fabric that leads the company today.
Ted Berry struck out on his own, away from his family’s business, to create a niche in business for himself, his motivation and success rooted in the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic and that your name is your reputation mentality. Those values have, in turn, seamlessly transferred through the second and now third generation who now run the Livermore, Maine-based trenchless and sewer cleaning company.
Family business transition can be tricky but Ted Berry Company seems to have found that balance of old school vs. new school, combining the strengths of both. “I had responsibility in my 20s that a lot of second and third generation people don’t get until they are in their 50s,” Matt Timberlake says. “I didn’t realize at the time how much courage and foresight that took from my father. But what it did was allow us to grow the company by offering new services and in turn allow him to enjoy life in his 50s and 60s.”
Though Matt has run the day to day operations of the company since the 2000s — becoming its president in 2015 — his father, Jim Timberlake, remains a fixture at the office. The elder Timberlake — son-in-law to Ted Berry — has been instrumental in the company’s success in recent years as a trusted advisor and mentor. At 62, he has the best of both worlds in which he can work and play.
Today, the company that once employed just three people has grown to more than 60 and has reinvented itself over the years from a agricultural equipment supplier to a leading services provider and advocate for the trenchless industry. Headquarters have remained in Livermore — coming full circle as company headquarters occupy the land that was once home to Ted Berry’s family business on top of Berry Hill.
The contracting company’s fleet of services includes sewer cleaning and inspection, pipe bursting, UV cured-in-place pipe (CIPP), lateral lining, sectional point repairs, sliplining and some pipe ramming. Its yard is full of equipment by Vactor, Guzzler, Aries, CUES, McElroy, John Bean, HammerHead Trenchless Equipment, TT Technologies, and Reline America, with various bypass pumps and HDPE piping.
As the company continues to evolve, memories of its founder, Ted Berry are never far from thought. The company holds fast to his core values of operating the company, ensuring everything they do is in step with maintaining its long-standing, strong reputation.
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Matt Timberlake sees a bright future in trenchless technology, as well as for his grandfather’s company. He doesn’t see the company adding any additional trenchless applications although innovation has been a key to the company’s growth but sees expanding the use of the ones it has as its future. “Right now, there is plenty of opportunity. Pipes aren’t getting any younger,” he says. “In the United States alone, there is 50 years’ worth of work ahead of us, especially in the Northeast.”
The Ted Berry Company was founded in 1972 by Ted Berry, who decided to leave his family apple orchard business — Berry Hill Orchard Co. — to strike out on his own. His father, Lewis, started the business in the 1940s, which grew into one of the largest apple orchards in the Northeast during its run, with his five sons. Ted started Ted Berry Company with his oldest son, Jack, and his son-in-law, Jim Timberlake, with the primary goal to sell agricultural sprayers, as well as orchard and manure spreaders. And that’s exactly what they did for the next 10 years. The company also sold FMC John Bean firetrucks, selling more than 100 trucks in Maine.
Ted Berry Company’s entry into the world of sewer cleaning and later trenchless technology came about quite unexpectedly. Matt Timberlake shares that John Bean also made trailer-mounted jet cleaners/municipal sewer cleaners and they accidentally sent one to his grandfather’s company. “Ted gets this thing and doesn’t know what to do with it,” he says. “One night, he’s at the VFW playing pool with the maintenance manager of a recently built paper mill, who told him there was a pipe there that was plugged and they can’t get it unplugged. Ted tells him that he has this sewer cleaning machine that may do the trick. He hauls it to the paper mill and unplugs the pipe.
“Ted Berry Company is now in the sewer cleaning business,” Matt says, laughing. “That is exactly how it happened.”
Timing is everything and the timing of Ted Berry’s addition of sewer cleaning was fortuitous. Not only did the service add a new dimension to the company, it had the potential to be a dominant portion of its business. The Clean Water Act had passed in 1972 and about that same time, sewer systems in Maine were being built up. “Ted Berry Company became the one that went around and flushed all these systems after they were constructed so they could be put into operation. It really started to become a core part of our business,” Timberlake says.
At that same time, Jim Timberlake started to take over many of the day-to-day responsibilities from his father-in-law. He saw an opportunity for the industrial cleaning side of the company to bust out and really grow. In 1989, Jim became the man in charge. He really wanted to buy an industrial vacuum truck to capitalize on the growth opportunity. Insert fun family story: “The story goes that the company did not have the cash to buy an industrial vacuum truck so they went to the bank and took out an equipment loan. My grandmother, Pearl, who was a fifth-grade teacher at the time, had to co-sign the loan so they could buy the truck. We still have a copy of the lease agreement in the office,” Matt says. “That willingness to take risk and be forward thinking has stuck with me.”
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Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the industrial cleaning services component was the workhorse of the company, making up more 75 percent of the business. Matt Timberlake joined his father and grandfather in 1994, right out of high school. Like his father before him, he had big ideas on how to further expand the company.
“I saw opportunity to grow the municipal side of the business. My father basically gave me the keys and said to go ahead, telling me ‘You want to grow it and you see the opportunity there, let’s do it’” Matt says.
His idea involved adding camera inspections to the company’s repertoire, something his father was skeptical about at first. “I convinced him we needed to add this service. I met with a few utility managers to feel them out about the need,” Matt says. “They were all interested in this service, telling me that the closest company they could get to do camera inspections were in Massachusetts, New York or New Jersey. I convinced my father to let us build our first CCTV truck and I ran it for a few years and this really opened the doors for us.”
About that time, Ted Berry Company started to make the shift away from selling Ag equipment as the apple orchard industry in the Northeast diminished. Further, the prosperous paper mills that dotted the Maine landscape were also struggling, affecting the company’s industrial cleaning segment. The company’s redirection to municipal work offset those changes.
By the 2000s, Matt was looking for the next “big thing” to add to the company’s offerings — enter pipe bursting. Pipe bursting caught his eye at a tradeshow, so much so that he brought the idea of adding this trenchless application to his father. “Pipe bursting really interested me. I told him that we needed to add this. We clean and inspect pipes but now it’s time that we started repairing them and offering [customers] the whole solution and not just parts of a solution,” he says.
Ted Berry Company pipe bursting crews cut its teeth by bursting laterals, as well as private pipe bursting work. Once the pipe bursting patents expired in 2005, the market really opened up. “As we’ve grown pipe bursting in the Northeast, we really became known for it; however, it’s really still just a small part of our company,” Matt says. “Pipe bursting makes up about 20 percent of our business.”
Part of what aided in Ted Berry Company’s ascension to such a leading advocate of pipe bursting is the company’s commitment to educating municipalities on its use. Matt Timberlake has been front and center in promoting the application and has been extremely active in various trenchless associations and groups, such as the International Pipe Bursting Association, a division of NASSCO. He played a key role in updating and revising pipe bursting guidelines that are used today.
“I saw early on that if we didn’t play a very active role in education and promotion [of trenchless technology], then I didn’t see it growing in the Northeast. I was out talking everywhere and to anyone who would listen to me talk about pipe bursting and inspecting pipes,” Timberlake says. “I feel it is both our responsibility and opportunity to educate the owners on what trenchless is and does. We would go to conferences and give case studies and interact with the trenchless industry. It transformed the company and our whole model as far as how we see our role in the industry.”
One area that has really grown exponentially for the trenchless industry is the cured in place pipe (CIPP) market, becoming the predominant rehab application for municipalities across North America. As popular and well-accepted as CIPP had become, Matt was just as adamant that his company wouldn’t add it to its services lineup, saying he wasn’t comfortable that the process was a good fit for the company. A few years back, he learned of ultra-violet (UV) CIPP and it piqued his interest. He met with his father and trenchless services manager Shawn Ready, discussing the pros and cons. “Shawn said that we turn down more calls every day that are relining jobs and that we have a gap in our offering, a pretty profound gap,” Matt says.
He studied the process and liked that UV curing eliminated the use of steam, boilers, odor, etc., and believed UV CIPP would be a perfect fit for the company. He worked with Reline America in having Ted Berry Company become a UV CIPP installer, making it official in April 2015. He believes this to be a seminal moment for the company.
“I liken the decision to add pipe relining to our company to the decision my father made to bringing in our first industrial vacuum truck in the 1980s or the one I made to add camera inspection,” Matt says. “This was an important company milestone.”
Social Media Magnet
In today’s fast-paced and instant need for information, companies are looking for ways to capitalize on it to promote their products, services and brand. Matt Timberlake has become an unlikely social media star within the trenchless world, a frequent tweeter of all things Ted Berry Company and a champion of #Drainspotting. He has been able to use today’s social media platforms to effectively market his company and the trenchless industry, as well.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn — Ted Berry Company has found a way to connect with the trenchless industry and those outside of it in today’s up-to-the-minute, viral-sharing world. And Matt is having a blast with it, at the same time bringing pointed awareness to the Ted Berry Company brand, as well as trenchless and infrastructure issues.
On Facebook, employee milestones and outside of work activities are spotlighted, showing the community the good work they do and engaging friends and family in the process.
RELATED: Social Networks Connecting the Trenchless Industry Across the Globe
On Twitter — known to all as @nodigmaine — he has expanded the reach of the company brand, especially with his fun and interactive #Drainspotting campaign, which started off as just something fun in snapping pics of manhole and drain covers all over the world and has grown to others doing the same. He daily tweets jobsite photos, cool work shots and employee milestones.
“Social media is a way to reinforce our brand. I’m a reflection of the Ted Berry Company brand,” Matt says. “If the company is having a good day, I’m having a good day. I take pictures with employees on jobsites and post them. If that is all it takes for me to positively represent the company, how foolish would it be to not take advantage of it?
“All of this goes back to our core value of if our reputation is strong in the community, the rest will work itself out,” he notes.
Ted Berry Company is well known within the trenchless industry. The company believes in what it does and strives to be the best and make the best decisions for its customers and the company. The company’s customer zone is strongly footed in New England and today, its headquarters sits on land that was once owned by his great-grandfather in the days of the apple orchard business. Matt understands just how much the company has grown under his and his father’s tenures, but thoughts of growing beyond the New England region rarely cross his mind.
“I really don’t want to be the ‘next’ national company, setting up offices in Houston, or Knoxville, Tenn., or Jacksonville, Fla., and everywhere else in between. That is just not my desire,” he says. “I don’t ever want for our company to be the one that is full of the jack of all trades and the masters of none. What we want is to be really good at what we do. In doing that, part of what we really identified is that this is where we are from and this is where we’re going to stay.”
The legacy of the Ted Berry Company and Ted Berry — who passed away in 2001 — is something Matt is cognizant of every day he goes to work. All decisions he makes are grounded with lessons learned from his grandfathers and father. “It is probably the single-most important thing to me,” he says, pausing. “There are days when that is a both a blessing and a curse. There are days that if we broke even and the company’s legacy was strong — I hate to say this — I would go home happy. The sign says Ted Berry Company. Ted Berry was my grandfather and my best buddy when I was in my 20s. It is ungodly important to me.”